Facing the Mirror vs. Facing the Students

In a previous post, new instructor tips, I stated that I HIGHLY recommend teaching your group exercise classes facing the students the majority of the time. In this post, I’m going to go into more depth on the pros and cons of facing the mirror vs. facing the students. I look at it from two different points of view:

  1. My experience as a student
  2. My experience as an instructor

From an instructing standpoint, it can be more difficult to teach facing your students because that means you start on your left foot so the students are on their right foot. Unless you’re a lefty, that means you have to be comfortable doing everything on your non-dominant side.

Don’t be discouraged because of this added difficulty. If you practice starting your routines on the left enough, it will become easier and second nature. To really make starting on your left foot more natural, I would practice all of your routines on your left. Don’t try to learn them on your right and then switch it the left later. That only adds difficulty.

From the students’ standpoint, it may be more difficult to catch onto the movements from a mirror image view at the beginning. The mirror image concept is confusing at first but, gets easier as they get used to that style of teaching.

These are the main reasons I recommend teaching facing your students:

  • Safety – if you cannot see your students, how do you know if something has gone wrong? You may think that you can see everything from the mirror but, realistically you can’t. Honestly, it is hard enough to see everything going on even facing your students. Why risk lowering your ability to see even less?
  • Modifications – seeing your students face to face means you can tell if your students are performing the moves correctly or not. If they seem to be struggling, you can suggest and/or demonstrate modifications so that everyone can succeed in completing the moves. This can also go the other way; if your students seem bored, you can kick up the workout a bit. You’ll probably miss some of the subtle signs of one or the other if you’re facing the mirror.
  • Connection – facing your students means you can make eye contact with them and acknowledge them. You can give them a quick smile and really make a personal connection. There’s no substitute for real face to face contact when it comes to interacting with people. Have you ever tried talking to a person with your back with your back faced to them? Not personal. Not ideal for a conversation or class.

I’ve been through various trainings for different formats, and for the most part they tell you to teach your class facing your students. Ideally, you want to teach your class the way the trainings instruct you to do so. For example, for some pre-choregraphed formats such as Les Mills programs, it is imperative to teach the way they trained you because they have a very strict code of conduct for their instructors.

I’m not advocating you should never face the mirror. There are plenty of instances where it’s totally acceptable. There are moves in routines that are too difficult for students to pick up when they mirror you. I turn around and face the mirror for the moves that I know are more challenging to get the students started and then face them when they seem comfortable with the move.

In some instances, students can be very particular about which way you face. There are situations where you may not be able to compromise. If you are in this position I would follow what your students are insisting on. It is not worth it to lose your students and/or class due to this type of issue.

At the end of the day, it is your class to teach and you know your students the best. I hope my perspective on teaching orientation equips you to make the best decision for your style and your students in all your classes.


Side note: If you’re a student reading this, hopefully this can make sense of why we instructors teach the way that we do. I just love to see all of your smiley sweaty faces.


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